“The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test scores in the short run, but also their long-run human capital formation. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational costs in the future.” ~ Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach PhD
When we have a special needs children it’s even more important to look at the evidence for class size. A new study conducted by the Texas Education Agency and the Department of Family and Protective Services, recommended a limit of 22 children and a student-teacher ratio of 11-to-1 for pre-kindergarten classes to improve pre-kindergarten education.
When they say 22 children, the best evidence on class-size reduction is from the STAR experiment, which found strong impacts from class sizes below 20. This was also stressed in research conducted on class size by Northwestern University Associate Professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach which was published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. It’s clear that class size matters, and it matters a lot. Dr. Schanzanbach, an associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern and chair of the Institute for Policy Research’s Program on Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies, writes in the review:
“Public education has undergone major reforms in the last 30 years with the rise in highstakes
testing, accountability, and charter schools, as well as the current shift toward
Common Core Standards. In the midst of these reforms, some policymakers have argued
that class size does not matter. This opinion has a popular proponent in Malcolm Gladwell,
who uses small class size as an example of a “thing we are convinced is such a big
advantage [but] might not be such an advantage at all.”
These critics are mistaken. Class size matters. Research supports the common-sense
notion that children learn more and teachers are more effective in smaller classes.
This policy brief summarizes the academic literature on the impact of class size and finds
that class size is an important determinant of a variety of student outcomes, ranging from
test scores to broader life outcomes. Smaller classes are particularly effective at raising
achievement levels of low-income and minority children.
Considering the body of research as a whole, the following policy recommendations
- Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes, and one that can be
directly determined by policy. All else being equal, increasing class sizes will harm
- The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test
scores in the short run, but also their long-run human capital formation. Money
saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and
educational costs in the future.
- The payoff from class-size reduction is greater for low-income and minority
children, while any increases in class size will likely be most harmful to these
- Policymakers should carefully weigh the efficacy of class-size policy against other
potential uses of funds. While lower class size has a demonstrable cost, it may prove
the more cost-effective policy overall.
Why do small classes work?
The mechanisms at work linking small classes to higher achievement include a mixture of higher levels of student engagement, increased time on task, and the opportunity small classes provide for high-quality teachers to better tailor their instruction to the students in the class. In small classes
students spent more time on task, and teachers spent more time on instruction and less on
Importantly, small classes have been found to have positive impacts not only on test scores during the duration of the class-size reduction experiment, but also on life outcomes in the years after
the experiment ended.
100-Student Class Size “Experiment”
“This can only be described as crude warehousing of children. How can teachers even attempt to nurture these young minds without individualized attention? What about physical activity and the need for play?”
The group of 100 students apparently also included special education children. Did it work?
The district and their 100-student class size “experiement” was plagued by:
- teacher turnover
- student dropout
- financial scandals
- exposures of wholesale indifference to students.
- And to add to that mess, special needs students have routinely been denied the assistance legally mandated by their Individual Education Programs, according to reports and outraged parents
“Mandatory use of technology for the very young is barely more than “electronic babysitting” and, together with standardized testing of kindergartners, constitutes, in many educators’ opinions, outright child abuse. Above all, it is indicative of the ever-widening class gulf in education in America.”
So next time at an IEP meeting they try to tell you class size doesn’t matter, now you have the evidence to share is does matter. It matters a lot.
- Texas state study on class size
- STAR Project
- Experiment with 100 student class size
- Review on class size by Northwestern University Associate Professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder